Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Come and See"

My thanks to the writing of Richard Swanson, Kathryn Matthews Huey, the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, and Paul J. Nuechterlein for their valuable insights into today's Scripture reading.

John 1:29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

This is the Word of the Lord.

When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” what is he saying? I think the most common interpretation is that Jesus is the sacrifice which atones for the sins of humankind. And that's true, yes, and it's fine, in and of itself, if that is what one takes away from the Gospels, it's enough.

But the interesting thing is that – remembering that Jesus and John and the disciples are all Jewish, and that their understanding of sacrifice would be based solely upon the Jewish Temple sacrificial system – lambs, in the Scriptures, are not sin sacrifices.

Bulls are sin offerings, as well as male and female goats. Where a lamb is mentioned it is specifically a female lamb.

Remember, though, that Jesus is crucified during Passover. That feast specifically calls for a male lamb, unblemished, sacrificed, roasted and consumed. The blood of that sacrificed lamb was to be splashed on the doorframe of the house, so that when the Angel of the Lord saw it, that house would be passed over, and another, unsplashed home would see its firstborn killed.

The sacrifice of that lamb protected the home, and ultimately freed the Hebrew people from slavery, and set them on the road to finding the Promised Land. The annual feast of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, remembered that mighty act of God. This, then, is what Jesus, as the Lamb of God, does: liberates the world from slavery to sin by bringing the world into new and fresh contact with the presence of God, so that human alienation from God can end.

Yes, Jesus Christ is our atoning sacrifice, Scripture is clear on that. But to say that Jesus simply died to please the bloodlust of an angry God, was One who wiped the slate clean so we could mess it up again – and let's be honest, for a sin-washed world, there is plentiful sin still to go around. People still kill people, people still rape and steal, hate and lust, disease and starvation and slavery...

Jesus is our Atonement, and so much more.

When John points out Jesus to his disciples, when they leave John to approach this Lamb of God, they approach one who is about reconciling the cosmos, all there was, is. And ever will be, to God, one who exists to break down the barriers which separate all of us from our loving Creator.

There is a word in Greek that shows up a lot in this reading: “meno,” which is most distinctively rendered “abide.” That word occurs five times in four verses here: “And John testified, 'I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abided on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and abide is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' Then: “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, 'What are you looking for?' They said to him, 'Rabbi' (which translated means Teacher), 'where are you abiding?' He said to them, 'Come and see.' They came and saw where he was abiding, and they abided with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.”

Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches us that he abides in the Father and the Father in him, and we as his disciples are then invited to abide in him and he in us. So when Jesus turns to ask the approaching disciples what they're looking for, and they ask where he lives, maybe they aren't asking for his address. Maybe they are really answering the question: “What are you looking for?” “We are looking to abide where you abide, to live where you live.”

Now, each of the Gospels is clear about how completely clueless the disciples are, so I don't know that these two completely understand what they are asking. What I do know is how they reacted to Jesus' answer to their question they respond the same way John did, by telling what they had found.

Andrew finds Simon, and brings him to Jesus... and Simon is changed. He gets a new identity.

Evangelism is a scary word, I'll admit. We don't talk a whole lot about it in mainline denominations, and when we do, it's often within the context of a program or ministry of the church as a whole. The dirty little secret, though, is that even in evangelical denominations, the idea of sharing your faith is daunting. That is why there are shelves full of how-to books, warehouses full of tracts and step-by-step formulas for witnessing to others about Jesus Christ.

I've used them and taught them before, but I will be honest: when I was writing this sermon, I couldn't remember more than Bill Bright's “The Four Spiritual Laws” and “The Romans Road,” which walks a person through key verses in (you may guess it by the name) the Book of Romans.

So I Googled “witnessing tools.” What I found was nine hundred and two thousand results, including how-to websites, offers of brochures and tracts, a Christian multi-tool (one of those things with pliers, screwdrivers, knives, and all in a pocket tool), a Christian mini barrel spotlight, illustrations, instructions on witnessing with balloon animals, Christian tee shirts, Christian bumper stickers, Christian drumsticks and Christian guitar straps and Christian keychains and Christian bracelets and Christian iPhone cases and Christian purses and Christian wallets and Christian sunglasses and Christian hair accessories...

But is the best way to share our faith found in a lanyard or a bumper sticker? Has anyone's life been changed by a one hundred twenty five foot high cross on I-65 North or by a billboard or keychain or church marquee sign?

Jesus did his fair share of seeking out disciples – John and Andrew by the sea of Galilee, for example. But in this case, the disciples sought out Jesus. They were told about him by someone who had firsthand knowledge, and they went to find out for themselves. And Jesus said to those inquiring disciples, “Come and see.”

And they saw. That is to say, the disciples saw his life, saw where he abided, and from seeing his life, they came to know who he was – Andrew said to Simon, “We have found the Messiah.”

A multitool or t-shirt can't do that, nor can a billboard or bumper sticker or a huge metal cross. I submit that these are marketing campaigns, not evangelism. The most effective form of evangelism, the best way to share our faith, and by far the most frightening, is by living. By being who we are in Christ.

The disciples were seekers. They had connected with John the Baptist because he had a message, and he pointed out for them the way to transformation – “Behold, the Lamb of God.” To be sure, this is a world full of seekers. We have “the pursuit of happiness” written into our history and our cultural DNA. We seek for meaning to life, we scramble to fill what St. Augustine called the “God-shaped hole.” And through it all, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

To find and be found, we all need a John the Baptist, an Andrew, a preacher, a teacher, a parent, a friend, a brother or sister – maybe all of the above and more – to point us in the right direction and to keep us on the trail.

To be John the Baptist for someone else is not difficult, it is not something to worry about or shy away from. It doesn't require perfection or a flawless delivery of perfected points of doctrine. We don't have to be right all the time. Madeline L'Engle (“lingel”) said, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

All that is required is a willingness to help others find what you have found. To help them find the place where they can sit and be still and wait for the Christ to come and say to them, as he has to each of us, “Come and see.”

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